FORT LAWN -- About 10 minutes before 1 p.m. Monday, Cincheeria Chambers' aunt called to tell her someone was dead in the road not far from the Fort Lawn mobile home park where she lives.
Chambers last had seen her oldest son, 7-year-old John Bailey Jr., walking down the street with other neighborhood kids, wearing his favorite Carolina Panthers jacket.
He went outside at noon. He was only supposed to be gone an hour.
"I went outside and I called my son's name," she said, "and he didn't answer."
The 26-year-old single mother walked up the street from her home at Lot 17. She saw all the other neighborhood kids, but John wasn't there.
When she got to her aunt's place, someone asked her if John was wearing a Panthers jacket.
Her mother, Brenda, had to identify Bailey's body. Chambers couldn't acknowledge her son was dead.
That same afternoon, at lot 28, 17-year-old Antonio “Ricky” Celey Jr. came home upset. He’d been his usual jokester self that morning, playing Playstation games with his friends.
But even though he couldn’t hear or speak, his mother knew something was wrong when he came home. Crying, the teen told his mother through hand gestures about a dead boy.
Then, he left to turn himself in.
By the time his mother got to the scene, her son was already in a police car.
As both families searched for answers Tuesday, Fort Lawn police also tried to get a clearer picture of how John Bailey Jr. died.
They knew that Monday morning George Katergaris reported his 1986 Chevy pickup stolen from the Wagon Wheel restaurant he owns in Fort Lawn.Katergaris had left the truck there Sunday afternoon and returned to find it missing Monday.
Based on interviews with several witnesses, police believe that shortly before 1 p.m., Katergaris spotted his stolen truck as he drove down Shirley Road, the same road he lives on.
As soon as Katergaris saw the truck — which had three people inside — it pulled into a driveway. Katergaris then tried to block the truck in with his van, but the truck pulled around his vehicle.
The truck then headed toward S.C. 9 with Katergaris following, flashing his lights and blowing his horn.
But the truck didn’t appear to slow down for Katergaris or a stop sign and turned right onto S.C. 9, speeding toward Richburg. About 150 yards down the road, John fell out of the cab.
He died at the scene.
The truck continued down S.C. 9 to Williams Street, a dead-end road. The truck turned onto Williams and the driver and an 11-year-old boy jumped out of the truck while it was still moving and ran.
The vehicle struck a house, but no one, including the driver and the other passenger, was hurt. Both boys returned to scene after the crash, said Fort Lawn Police Chief Mike Revels.
The 11-year-old wasn’t charged, but Celey was arrested and cited for driving without a license. All three boys were friends who lived in the same mobile home park.
Police struggled to communicate with Celey because they had no sign language interpreter and the teen’s family said he couldn’t understand written statements.
At a bond hearing Tuesday afternoon, an interpreter from Charlotte explained to Celey that he was also being charged with receiving stolen goods.
At one point, Celey said through the interpreter that a boy had pulled open the truck door. But before he could elaborate, Magistrate Dianne Moore told him anything he said could be held against him and, though he would have his chance to tell his side of the story, that wouldn’t happen in front of her.
Celey’s bond was set at just more than $10,200.
After the hearing, Celey’s mother, brother and cousin waited in the parking lot outside the magistrate’s courtroom for police to tell them more.They said they didn’t know anything about a stolen truck until after John’s death. They doubted that Celey was capable of stealing the truck and worried that he couldn’t understand what was happening.
“He’d never hurt a child,” said cousin Alicia Cloud.
His mother, who identified herself as Mrs. Gaines, said she was sorry for John’s family and that her son was also sorry.“He’s going to have to live with this the rest of his life,” she said.
They described Celey, whom they call Ricky, as a kid who cuts up with family, likes to play video games and shoot hoops at a court across the road from the mobile home park.
Despite what his brother is accused of, 25-year-old Maurice Gaines said Celey couldn’t steal a car by himself.
“I just want to get him out,” he said.
But Celey remained in jail Tuesday night.
Revels was able to interview Celey through the interpreter, but he said he only learned a few additional details.
When he asked Celey to explain how John fell out of the truck, he said he was looking straight ahead and didn’t see anything, Revels said.
“He was real unclear as to how the door got open,” he said.
Celey did admit that he stole the truck from the Wagon Wheel Sunday night, Revels said, and he insisted he did it alone.
As for additional charges, Revels said he’s spoken with prosecutors about the case and they’ve told him to compile all his evidence and present it to them. Then, they will decide if more charges will be filed.
Chambers also sat in the courtroom for Tuesday’s bond hearing, though she, like Celey’s family, wants closure, to know the specifics she has yet to hear.
Her son always asked her before getting in a car with anyone, she said, even family.
Although she said she didn’t know Celey’s name until Monday, she knew him from the neighborhood, an older kid who would throw the football with John and his friends.
Chambers said her son was a talkative first-grader at Lewisville Elementary School who’d just told her he’d had the best Christmas ever.
Someone stole his bicycle about a week before the holiday and his grandmother bought him a new one for Christmas.
Now, that joy has been replaced by grief and uncertainty. Not only in lot 17, but also in lot 28, where another family fears it could lose a son to prison.
“That’s two families that’s hurt,” Cloud said.
“It’s bad on both ends,” Chambers said.